By Richard Walker and Nick Twietmeyer / Kitsap Daily News
POULSBO — Poulsbo Police Officer Stacey Smaaladen has been off the job since Nov. 3 but continues to draw her salary as she awaits a March 3 appearance in court on charges of felony possession of a controlled substance and third-degree theft.
Smaaladen was filmed by a police lobby surveillance camera last fall removing prescription medications from a drop box used by the public to dispose of unwanted or expired prescription medications.
The video footage was seen by the city support services manager, who gave it to Police Chief Dan Schoonmaker on Nov. 2. Smaaladen is seen removing drugs from the drop box eight times between Oct. 24 and Nov. 2, all after hours. Three times she was in plain clothes; one time, she used a coat hanger to fish drugs out of the box. All other times she was in uniform.
After viewing the footage, Schoonmaker contacted Bremerton Police Department and requested a criminal investigation.
Bremerton Interim Police Chief James Burchett and Lt. Randy Plumb interviewed Smaaladen at Poulsbo City Hall when she arrived for work on Nov. 3. According to their report, Smaaladen said she stole the drugs to “supplement her legally prescribed medication for pain, due to injuries including back surgery.”
On Sept. 27, 2017, Spine Institute Northwest posted a video interview with Smaaladen, in which the officer explains how the surgical treatment she received there on her back relieved her of severe back pain that had relegated her to light duty and kept her from riding her horse.
In her interview with Burchett and Plumb, Smaaladen acknowledged what she did was theft, said she “felt guilty,” and was trying to wean herself off the medications “and was working with her doctor to do so as well,” according to the investigation report. She admitted stealing Hydrocodone, Ibuprofen, Gabapentin, Percocet and Flexeril. But in searching her backpack, Burchett and Plumb found other medications for which she did not have a prescription: Morphine Sulfate, Tramadol, Cyclobenzaprine, Spironolactone, Levothyroxine, Bupropion, Pantoprazole, Nortriptyline, Floricet, Merthocarbamol, and Amitriptyline.
Schoonmaker placed Smaaladen on paid administrative leave pending a separate internal investigation; he said this follows a process outlined in the police officers’ collective bargaining agreement.
Smaaladen was not booked, but Schoonmaker said the officer did not receive any preferential treatment. “I received the information the evening of the second, reviewed it on the third, immediately called [Bremerton Police] to investigate, and she was placed on leave that day,” he said. “Not everyone we arrest for theft gets booked into county jail. There are a lot of factors that go into that.”
Possession of a controlled substance is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000. Third-degree theft is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
“She’s on a tough journey right now’
Schoonmaker said that, by all accounts, Smaaladen has done an exemplary job as the department’s crisis intervention officer.
“She goes out of her way to help people that are in need. I would say even above and beyond what a typical police officer does,” Schoonmaker said. “There was nothing that would indicate that there was a problem prior to us seeing what we saw. There’s certain behaviors we can’t tolerate but we also know there’s a human component to this.”
Schoonmaker said the department is rallying around Smaaladen.
“Stacey’s on a tough journey right now and we’re going to support her,” he said, adding, “Even though I’ve been here 14 months, it’s a small agency. We all know each other, we all care about each other. The department, the reputation and the trust in the community has to come first. I think even Stacey would tell you that.”
Meanwhile, Schoonmaker said there has been a procedure change in how the prescription medication drop box is opened. It takes two keys to open it; those keys are no longer located in one place, meaning it now takes two people to open the box.
— Richard Walker is managing editor of Kitsap News Group; contact him at email@example.com. Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.